THE BLOG

Has My Facebook Feed Left Me Politically Ignorant?

15/11/2016 12:01
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Since news broke back in early September that Facebook filters out Conservative news from their newsfeed, there has been much discussion surrounding the very nature of personalised news content. Is this filtering a form of positive personal specialisation, or does it coddle and comfort, giving a distorted and false view of the world?

President Barack Obama warned of the danger in doing this in his Harvard Commencement speech earlier this year. He claimed that "every time a fool speaks, they are just advertising their own ignorance". By not giving these people the chance to be heard "you just make them a victim, and then they can avoid accountability". Is this precisely the case of the most recent election?

Trump was established as a victim of mainstream media bias by his own campaign team, a view then re-circulated by his supporters who believe that the media were favourable towards Hillary. Trump was then placed in a position wherein he was no longer accountable for things he actually said. For example, his comments made about grabbing "women by the pussy" were regarded as "locker room talk" by his supporters. As such, a climate occurs wherein it is possible for an individual to say just about anything, and, as long as it is reported on, it is considered negative and biased media. By establishing the belief that Trump is not being listened to or properly represented by mainstream media, he is considered a victim, and no longer accountable for his actions or statements.

This may be the case, but how does this distortion of mainstream media tie in with the coddling nature of social media personalisation? Going into this election I was of the strong belief that Hillary would win. Similarly, I believed that Great Britain wouldn't vote to depart the European Union and that the 2015 General Election would leave us with a hung parliament. I read the news, I am politically active and aware and I believed these things not out of blind hope, but out of academic reason and logic. Why then, am I always left wrong?

Much of the mainstream media content I read reinforces my views. This isn't simply from my peers but the news sources I follow too. It is not a revolutionary statement to claim that your chosen news source of preference pushes you towards a certain political leaning. In fact, the association of those who read the Daily Mail and The Sun with those who voted for Brexit has been considerably strong for some analysts. However, the filtering out of certain political views by social media algorithms feels different.

The mainstream media that Trump so vehemently claims to be a victim of is so clear to me in their leanings that it does not affect my political opinion. I know when I am reading the Guardian that I am being presented with a generally left wing perspective, but I do not look at my social media feeds with the same awareness of bias. If certain beliefs are filtered from my newsfeed, am I just as bad as the supposedly evil media machines Trump is battling against? If I go into every election and referendum surrounded by the climate given to myself by social media, I am left viewing the world through rose-tinted glasses. I do not give chance for any other view to be heard and as a result I am left wondering who is accountable for a result that makes no sense in my utopian, Facebook filtered world.

In this election, as well as the Brexit referendum, much has been said about how out of touch the political elites are with the normal person. I have never fully grasped what is meant by this. I am not a political elite and neither are my friends, yet we are all, so often, out of touch. It comes to pass that now, as we try to understand a Brexit-ed and Pro-Trump world, I am left wondering whether my newsfeed has left me out of touch with my own society, and all the more ignorant as a result.

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